Personal Injury: Burden of Proof

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In any personal injury case it is the injured person’s job to convince a judge or jury or the insurance adjuster that the person being sued is responsible for causing their injuries. This article will discuss how much convincing the injured person must do in a personal injury case and how and when that burden of proof is applied.

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute the burden of proof “describes the standard that a party seeking to prove a fact in court must satisfy to have that fact legally established.” The plaintiff has the burden of proving his case by a ‘preponderance of the evidence’. In all legal cases there must be a certain evidence related threshold that must be met before a defendant can be found guilty or liable. Therefore, the burden of proof refers to just how convinced the judge or jury must be before believing something. It must be noted that the term burden of proof is often understood to mean how convinced the judge or jury is of the case as a whole, however, the burden of proof applies to each individual element in a claim.

Personal injury cases are civil court matters and in these cases a plaintiff must convince the jury that it is more likely than not that the facts are what he or she says they are. ‘More likely than not’ or by a ‘preponderance of evidence’ basically means that the jury thinks the chances the plaintiff’s version of the facts are true is at least 51% while the chances that they are false is no more than 49%. As such 50/50 odds are not good enough.

It is important to realize that the defendant is not required to prove their version of events as true. When the plaintiff is trying to prove the elements of the case, the defendant does not need to convince the jury of an alternative version; the only thing necessary for the case to fail is for the jury to believe that the chances are 50% or more that the plaintiff’s version of events is inaccurate or false. However, the defendant can present evidence of facts that contradict the plaintiff’s version of events but the jury does not need to be convinced that the defendant’s version of the fact is the most accurate. As a result, the defendant’s alternative facts simply are to cast doubt on the plaintiff’s version that the jury no longer believe the plaintiff’s version is most likely than not true.

There is an exception to this rule if a defendant is trying to prove an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense happens when the defendant proves additional facts that defeat the plaintiff’s claim. In such a case the defendant must prove the elements of an affirmative defense to be more likely than not true. One example of an affirmative defense is ‘assumption of the risk’ which could arise in cases where the plaintiff was injured while participating in a sport.

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